The best view of England's Houses of Parliament is obtained from the river along which they extend for nearly one thousand feet. Built in elaborate Gothic style, their ornamentation includes massive towers, graceful pinnacles, fluted columns, interesting statues, and a bewildering amount of fine stone-carving. They cover an area of eight acres; and while their rooms are numbered by hundreds, their corridors can be reckoned by miles.
The grand Victoria Tower, through which the Queen enters when she opens Parliament, attains the imposing height of three hundred and forty feet. The Clock Tower, also, at the northern end of these imperial legislative halls, is only twenty feet lower than its rival. It gives one a singular conception of force producing delicate results when he learns that the minute-hand on that lofty clock-dial is a bar of steel twelve feet in length. Every one, who has spent a night in this part of London, must have heard the great bell of this tower proclaim the flight of time in deep and solemn tones, which are to those of other bells like the diapason of an organ to the sound of a street piano. This bell, which weighs no less than thirteen tons, is called Big Ben, and had for years no rival; but it is now surpassed by the monster recently placed in St. Paul's Cathedral; yet they are far enough apart to cause no interference with each other. The kingdom of Big Ben has been curtailed, but over this part of gigantic London he still reigns supreme.
The hall where the Peers of England sit in council is sumptuously decorated. The stained glass windows glow with the illumined forms of all the kings and queens of England since the Conquest; around the walls, on gilded pillars, stand statues of the valiant barons who forced Magna Charta from King John; while the rich filigree and carving on almost every foot of wall and balcony make the apartment seem a trifle overladen with adornment. In the centre stands the famous wool-sack of the Lord Chancellor, a kind of cushioned ottoman, covered with crimson cloth; while on the right and left are the seats of the Lords, who do not occupy chairs and desks, as do our Senators, but long benches upholstered in leather. At one end of the hall, beneath a richly gilded canopy, stands the throne of the Queen; and the two Houses are so arranged that when the doors are opened, her Majesty, seated in the House of Lords, can see in a direct line the Speaker of the House of Commons in his chair.
The Entrance To The House Of Lords.
The House Of Lords.
To Englishmen and Americans who have been present at debates in the House of Commons during the latter half of the nineteenth century, three Parliamentary heroes stand forth unsurpassed in interest and influence. They are John Bright, the sturdy champion of the Union during the Civil War in the United States; Benjamin Disraeli, the brilliant leader of the Tories; and William E. Gladstone, whom even contemporaneous history designated by the title, Grand Old Man.
Houses Of Parliament, From The Thames.
It was never my privilege to listen to John Bright, but I have more than once sat spellbound under the sonorous voice and rhythmic eloquence of Gladstone, and have followed with intense enthusiasm forensic struggles between the sinuous Disraeli and his sturdy foe. For years, on every important question, either Disraeli spoke first and Gladstone answered him, or Gladstone advocated the measure and was replied to by his rival. The contrast between these men, whom politics made lifelong parliamentary adversaries, was striking; yet one could scarcely doubt for a moment which was the greater statesman, orator, and scholar. Gladstone was always perfectly sincere. He spoke with the assurance of conviction and the courageous confidence of an approving conscience. Disraeli, on the contrary, never appeared to believe thoroughly a word he said, but seemed to take a gamester's view of life, and to be half cynically, half wearily, pushing about kings, queens, knights, pawns, and bishops upon the chess-board of the world.